I am a parish minister currently serving the Eliot Church of Natick MA. Eliot Church is a Community Church affiliated with the Unitarian Universalist Association and the United Church of Christ. Any statements made and postions held in "Unity," however, are solely mine(of course, they may be used with appropriate atribution). Therefore if you disagree, please do not blame the church!

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Advent Sermon I

In the interest of broadening the use of this Weblog, I have made some alterations. Among them is a slight change in the description of the Blog (I added "the minister of" up above to indicate that the opinions and perspective in Unity are mine rather than those of the congregation as a whole. Also, I have made a promise to myself and some others at Eliot to post some of my sermons. This is the first. I tried a few high-tech ways to do this but alas! I have failed....

So here is my sermon from last Sunday. It is about not going completely bonkers during Advent. This is, of course, a very busy time and we can loose sight of what is important, particularly if you live near the Natick Mall! Anyway, feel free to use this with appropriate attribution, etc, etc....

P.S. The odd format is intentional. They are sermon notes. This is the way I read it when I preach.

Advent I
Eliot Church
Rev. Adam Tierney-Eliot

A fellow Rotarian,
At our weekly lunch this past Tuesday
Put a five in the “Happy Dollar” charity bucket
And informed those assembled
That we wouldn’t see him until January
No, he isn’t going on a trip for business or pleasure
He is a small business owner
And we are in the midst of the holiday season
So, for him there will be no rest
Until after New Year’s Day

“Black Friday” the day after Thanksgiving
Is traditionally the busiest shopping day of the year
And things do not slow down too much
Until after all the holidays
Have run their course
It is a time of great anticipation and excitement
But also one of waiting
Of waiting in traffic and in lines
Of waiting for grandparents and parents and children
For parties and for quieter moments
There is a great deal of waiting that goes on this time of year
And quite a bit of hurrying, too

At times, we are so busy and bothered by the wait
That we can forget
What it is that we are truly waiting for
We can forget that there is more to all of this
Than a myriad of small tasks
There is a bigger picture
There is a bigger story

This time of year can be summed up
By considering the great lesson of the Heinz Ketchup Bottle
Holder of the thickest and least convenient condiment of all time
Good things are worth waiting for

Good things are worth waiting for
But it is also true that
Bad things usually are not worth your time
Waiting this time of year can become an end in and of itself
Or the mere anticipation of disappointment
And this is unfortunate
It makes life hard when everyone is trying
To make it look easy
And leads to the sort of burnout and depression
Immortalized by those two great literary figures
Of Grinch and Scrooge

Much of this can be avoided
If we remember that it is the good thing
That we are waiting for
There are things that we can do, of course
To keep this goal in our hearts during the holidays
Here are three:
We can prepare and practice,
We can take time for ourselves
And we can spend time with those we love
With our Family and friends

First, though, What are we waiting for?
One of the great messages of the world’s religions
Is that God lives both in times of plenty
And of scarcity
Both the Hannukah story and that story of Christmas
Are about the presence of God during the hard times
And their observance at the beginning of winter
Only serves to underscore that

This presence during times of cold and discomfort
Is something that we all yearn to lift up when we can
Neither of these holidays
Holds any great official weight in their respective religions
Neither Hannukka nor Christmas
Could truly be considered a “High Holy Day”
In their respective faiths
But the need and desire for a little light this time of year
Has given them much more power than
The systematic theologians probably would have wished for

The goal, the event we are waiting for
Could be described as the birth of God
Or, even better, the discovery of an eternal
Always constant Divine Presence
Now, we could spend a great deal of time this morning
Debating the meaning of such a proposition
For, in any church or congregation
The words each of us use have different meaning
Walter Kring gets at this in our reading this morning
When he says that
There is no more inclusive word in the English language, or in any language than the word “God.” There is probably no word that means so many different things to so many people as this word.

We do not agree on its meaning and, really, are not expected to
For our purposes, many folks
Will hear me speak of the “Birth of God”
And will think of Jesus in the manger
Some will consider this an actual divine birth
And others will consider it metaphorical
For some the Christmas story has less meaning
For some it has more

But the point is that what we are waiting for
Is that presence of God
(Regardless of how you choose to accept the term)
In our hearts and in our world
That can happen not just on December 25
But at any time

The Advent season, however,
Gives us a good opportunity to practice
To learn patience and to hunt for the holy
Now, patience requires preparation
The prayer by Robert French Leavens
Ends with these words:
Three unseen guests attend,
Faith, hope, and Love:
Let all our hearts prepare them [a] place

A great deal of what we do this time of year
Is just this type of preparation
Like cleaning out the guest room
For out-of-town family
We are, as we do it, aware
Of those who will come and occupy that place

Some of the things we do to get ready for the holidays
We already know
And are relentlessly reminded of them
We buy or make presents
We put up and decorate a tree
Grab a wreath or two at the grocery store
And set up the holiday lights
The plastic snowmen and maybe even a Santa

These preparations are important and good
(Although we rarely need to spend as much as we do)
But all of them are merely the public activities
Of what should also be an internal process
The tree and the decorations
Help to connect us to our history
To our culture and they help us to see the holy

The same can be said for the presents
The gifts we make and buy
This year I am trying to make
As many of them as I can
My brother and sister-in-law
Are organic farmers
Every year I receive a basket or box
Full of some combination of
Cheese, candles, soap, jam, beer, sausage and wool socks
All of which they made themselves
All of which help us to remember them
When they are far away
All of which helped them to think of us
While they worked on them

Now, obviously, that level of craftiness
Puts most of us to shame
But we can usually find a little something
A small way to put ourselves into our giving
At the very least we can choose the wrapping paper
While we do this we should do it with our minds
On what we are waiting for
For It is during this quest for presents
That we can feel the most separated from that goal

After all, as hard as we try
Each and every one of us will probably do some time
On Route 9 in December
Giving can dominate our lives in an unhealthy way
The goal can become Tickle Me Elmo
Or its age appropriate equivalent for that special person
When really most of us are aware of the fact that
The gifts of faith, hope and love
Matter most

That brings us to our second Christmas activity
That is Take time for ourselves
Ministers like to call this “retreating”
But you do not have to

Even with all that we have to do
We can take some time to read a book
To do something we love
(other than shopping)
If you have a hobby,
Advent is a great time to get into it again
Certainly for those home-made gifts
But mostly for your own peace of mind

Down-time is a traditional part
Of the holiday season
The wreaths we all put up this time of year, for example
Have their origins in the wagon wheel
In the past, people would literally
Take the wheels off the wagon
Bring them in the house and decorate them
Partly it served to bring the outdoors in
Much like the tree
But practically, it also made people focus inward
After all, you cannot go anywhere on three wheels

Consider how you can take the tires off your holiday season
(metaphorically, of course)
Christmas doesn’t have to be
The perfect Martha Stewart moment
It just has to be what you need from it
Relax, stay at home when you feel like it
And be sure to stop
To experience the world around you
What better way to do that
Than to spend time with friends and family
Don’t forget to spend time with the people
You actually like to be with

One basic and essential part
Of our lives here at Eliot Church
Is that we can see the Divine in the people we love
We cannot do that, unless we take the time
Check in with them once in a while
The greatest gift you can give yourself
Is to remember not to go crazy
And to keep close to your friends
We can do this not just on the morning of the big day
But right now

All that time when we think
We should be doing something and are not
Could be the most important time we spend this holiday season

Finally, there is a tool that we can use
On all three of these steps toward a healthy holiday
And that is this church
If you are having trouble keeping perspective
Come to church on Sunday
Or give me a call during the week
It is ten years since I first participated
In the holidays as a member of a church staff
And I can safely say
That regardless of where you are
A great deal gets put off until the New Year
So that the church can be here for you
In the chaos of the season

For all of us in fact
If this is a happy, a sad, or an indifferent time
The church is here to help you through it
Always keeping its eyes on the prize
On the great story of the holy

Our reading from Matthew today
Said in part:
Understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night of the thief was coming, the owner would have stayed awake and would not have let the house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Human One is coming at an unexpected hour.

Enlightenment can come at any time
So let us take a moment of silent prayer and meditation
To prepare us for this busy and holy season